The Altar

Question: What am I looking for?

Fear: I’ll never find it.

While wandering the streets of Las Vegas, the epitome of American vice, greed, and materialism, Bono famously shot a music video where he sang, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” In so doing, he identified the gut feeling of his generation. OK, my generation. But it’s not a new one. The context certainly changes. But as one studies the great men and women of the past, even characters of the Bible, this nagging dissatisfaction is everywhere in history. And in spiritual formation, it eventually leads to an altar, a place of sacrifice, where we are forced to go beyond the narcissism to find the answer.

Now, this is no easy task. And sometimes what works for one person will flop with someone else. Perhaps this is why Paul said you had to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

But one common pattern that emerges is a moment of transubstantiation, suggesting that the “what” that we are looking for isn’t so much the dream job or the dream lover or the dream house, but it is more of a metamorphosis. Now, this might lead to nice things, and it may not. But through the process we discover that what we attain or achieve no longer is what’s important.

It’s becoming who we were meant to be.

Transubstantiation, then, is what happens to you when you push through your fear and pain, abandon the baggage that has been holding you back, and move forward in the direction you were meant to go, thus becoming what you were meant to become.

It sometimes involves a moment of clarity where you are able to see clearly before you the path you need to take. Now, I don’t want to sound as if there is only one moment. There are many course corrections along the way. But the altar becomes the place for us to experience them.

At the altar, we consume the flesh and blood of Christ that then becomes our source of nourishment for our journey. We make our offering, which is nothing less than ourselves, so that we can be intimately joined with God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, the perfect union of love. And, we revisit this sacred place over and over again, not always in church or corporate worship, but most often in silence and solitude. It is there that we recall our own passion (suffering) in light of Christ’s. We dump any baggage that we have picked up again. We correct our course to make sure we are heading where we are supposed to be heading, and we move forward, having received the grace and power to do so through the gift of God.

The problem is that it’s easy to get distracted. We procrastinate. We get busy with families, church, jobs, and in the process we get lost. Hungry. Discouraged. If we are not careful, we can attempt to satisfy our hunger and thirst with easier substitutes–what C.S. Lewis called “the sweet poison of the false infinite.”

The altar, however, demands that we become the living sacrifice again and again.

Go Deeper:

Thomas A’Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction